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Iran isn't happy about the latest Middle East protests

Iran isn't happy about the latest Middle East protests

Few people in the world are dealing with quite as big a headache these days as General Qassim Suleimani. The wily general Suleimani is the leader of Iran's elite, paramilitary Quds Force, which is responsible for expanding Tehran's military and political influence across the Middle East.

The past few days have not been going well for him.

Lebanon and Iraq, two key countries in Iran's regional strategy, are currently engulfed in widespread protests demanding the ouster of their governments. And those governments? They were formed, or supported, in part by groups whom Suleimani backs. Years of his work could go up in smoke in the coming weeks.

In Lebanon, the Iran-backed militant and political group Hezbollah and its allies have held the largest bloc in parliament since winning big in elections last year. But that has put the group, arguably Tehran's most powerful proxy in the region, in the political crosshairs as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are in the streets demanding the replacement of the current government with non-political technocrats.

Hezbollah has refused that demand, claiming without much success that the protests are a Western plot. But now that Prime Minister Saad Hariri has defied the group and resigned, the group is in a tight spot: green lighting a technocrat government would kneecap the group's own power, (and Iran's). But merely reshuffling the status quo risks a broader confrontation with the streets.

In Iraq, the chaos following the US invasion in 2003 opened the way for Iran to expand influence within the borders of its long-time rival. In recent years, Tehran-backed militias helped to defeat ISIS and then turned those battlefield bonafides into political power: a coalition of these groups led by a local warlord controls the second largest bloc in parliament.

Maintaining a strong hand in Iraq is so crucial for Iran that when massive protests over unemployment and corruption began a month ago, General Suleimani immediately flew to Baghdad to help coordinate a forceful response. Part of that involved Iran-backed gunmen shooting at protestors. As recently as Wednesday, after protests raged again, Suleimani was said to be back in the Iraqi capital trying to shore up the current government. By yesterday the Prime Minister had provisionally resigned, opening up fresh uncertainty in the country.

Bottom line: Iran has craftily cultivated influence in two of the region's key, democratically-elected governments. The flip side of that clout is responsibility. These governments' incompetence and corruption have not only jeopardized their own survival, they've potentially dealt a blow to Iran's broader regional aims as well. General Suleimani is a skilled and powerful operator: keep an eye on what he does next.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

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